This Spring, Sebastian Izzard LLC will celebrate their twenty-fifth anniversary with an exhibition of nineteenth century Japanese paintings and prints. Concentrating on the last sixty years of the Edo period, the exhibition includes maps—both painted and printed—landscapes, dramatic historical tableaux, and studies of the natural world made at this time.
This was an age of widely diverging tastes. The highly literate citizens of Edo not only enjoyed high-minded Chinese and Japanese poetry, they also were avid consumers of works created by a talented generation of authors who gave them simplified versions of Chinese historical novels, humorous reinterpretations of classics of Japanese literature, adventurous war chronicles of medieval Japan, satirical and comic stories, and many exaggerated tales of the mysterious and supernatural. That lively literature proved fertile ground for playwrights who adapted the stories for the popular theater, subversively dressing up their plots to disguise forbidden accounts of scandalous, titillating, and horrific contemporary events under the guise of history, for the delectation of their public. Ukiyo-e is the visual counterpart of those trends, and its artists competed vigorously with each other to achieve commercial success with a wide variety of creative, imaginative, and beautiful imagery that still resonate with us today. The exhibition avoids the main staples of the period: prints of actors and beautiful women. In catering to a mass audience that now extended throughout the country, those prints had largely lost the vigor of their eighteenth-century counterparts. Instead, we have concentrated on landscapes, bird-and-flower prints, and prints with subjects drawn from the literature mentioned above. Only painted images of beautiful women have been included, reflecting the desire for luxury consumer goods evident at that time.
A panoramic view of Edo by the samurai artist Kuwagata Keisai (1764–1824) sets the scene followed by a rich selection of maps, landscapes, and illustrations of poetry by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), including his iconic “Red Fuji,” and paintings by his followers Maki Bokusen (1775–1824), and Teisai Hokuba (1771‒1844). Hokusai’s works are complemented by landscapes by his rival Hiroshige, including a first edition of his famous snowscape Evening Snow, Kambara , and his moonlit masterpiece Seba. Hiroshige’s bird-and-flower prints are justly famous, and we are proud to offer a fine group which includes another masterpiece, Geese in Flight Under the Harvest Moon. The exhibition closes, appropriately enough, with a print by Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865) depicting female shopkeepers selling books and prints by the artist and his friend Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858).